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35 posts categorized "Farms and Agriculture"

August 28, 2012

Alice Eats: The Inn at Shelburne Farms

2012-08-19 01.06.461611 Harbor Road, Shelburne, 985-8498

We all need a taste of luxury now and then. Usually, in those cases, we assume that those meals will be stressful on the wallet. But smart diners know that even at the finest restaurants, meals earlier in the day can cost a fraction of rich dinner prices. To give both me and my billfold a treat, I indulged in brunch at the Inn at Shelburne Farms.

We were led through the grand entrance to a table for two just below a painting of the original homeowner, Lila Vanderbilt Webb. It had taken me weeks to get a reservation, and the joint was indeed jumping. Our server warned us from the beginning that the kitchen was backed up and it would take 15 to 20 minutes for our food to arrive.

2012-08-19 01.21.13That ended up being more like 30 or 45 minutes, but good conversation in opulent surroundings is really the goal at Shelburne Farms. I wasn't in a hurry.

And the food was worth it. The veal and pork terrine was tender and smoky — perfect for a Sunday picnic in Provence. It was bathed in tarragon Hollandaise that had just a whisper of anise flavor. Eggs were poached perfectly and lent an extra layer of creaminess to the plate, which also included microgreens and an herb crostini. It was a delicious plate, but for $13, the portion was more like an appetizer than a hearty breakfast.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: The Inn at Shelburne Farms" »

July 26, 2012

Green Mountain Compost to Dole Out Compensation for Contaminated Compost

TomriddleLast night the board of commissioners for the Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) approved a customer-assistance package to provide refunds and some remediation for gardeners affected by trace herbicides discovered in CSWD's Green Mountain Compost. The boarded approved expenditures up to $934,992 to reimburse customers who purchased compost between January 1 and July 13. CSWD voluntarily stopped selling the compost in late June, after first suspecting the presence of persistent herbicides. 

The early suspicions of customers and CSWD staff about the contaminated compost were spot on: As Corin Hirsch reported earlier this month, further testing revealed the presence of two persistent herbicides — clopyralid and picloram — in Green Mountain Compost. CSWD marketing coordinator Clare Innes says that, so far, 470 gardeners have contacted the district to report possible damage from the contaminated soil, and that number is rising daily.

Continue reading "Green Mountain Compost to Dole Out Compensation for Contaminated Compost" »

July 11, 2012

Hinesburg Farmers, Other Organic Growers Appeal Ruling in Monsanto Lawsuit

Zuckerman

Updated below with Correction

Organic farmers from around the country — including David Zuckerman and Rachel Nevitt of Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg — are taking their lawsuit against seed giant Monsanto to the next level.

Having lost round one in federal court in February, the farmers have appealed the case and are asking another court to pre-emptively block Monsanto from suing them for patent infringement should their crops become cross-pollinated with the agri-giant's genetically-engineered seed.

The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), representing 83 farmers and farm organizations that claim more than 300,000 members, argue that they are forced to sue Monsanto pre-emptively to protect themselves from the company's "abusive lawsuits" against unsuspecting farmers whose organic crops become contaminated.

In February, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York sided with Monsanto and dismissed the case, saying the organic farmers' fears about contamination "do not amount to a substantial controversy and that there has been no injury traceable to defendants."

Last week, OSGATA appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont and Rural Vermont are co-plaintiffs in the case. Click here to download the farmers' appeal brief.

Continue reading "Hinesburg Farmers, Other Organic Growers Appeal Ruling in Monsanto Lawsuit" »

July 10, 2012

Frustration and Mystery Surround Contaminated Compost

Leaf_curlIt was two weeks ago that Tom Moreau, the general manager of the Chittenden County Solid Waste District, noticed his tomato plants were curling and wilting. That compelled him to alert the public that soil and compost from CSWD's Green Mountain Compost might be toxic. He suspended sales and sent off samples for testing.

Now that lab tests have confirmed that both bulk and bagged soil and compost from GMC is laced with two persistent herbicides — clopyralid and picloram — the fallout is broad. As CSWD scrambles to do damage control, the state is trying to pinpoint where the de-listed substances came from. Gardeners, meanwhile, are salvaging what they can of their plants.

Continue reading "Frustration and Mystery Surround Contaminated Compost" »

July 09, 2012

Growing Issues: Burlington's Urban Ag Task Force Seeks Feedback On Its Draft Report

Rooney:Dorn photoWant to raise alpacas on Peru Street? How about cherry trees on Washington Street, or goats on Grant Street? If you're an urban farmer, gardener, beekeeper or tender of livestock within Burlington city limits — or want to be — the Urban Agriculture Task Force wants your feedback ASAP.

Last week, the Urban Agriculture Task Force released its long-awaited draft report of recommendations to the Burlington City Council on how it should manage and regulate the interests and needs of residents who raise food within the Queen City. The 70-page report is chock full of advice and recommendations for dealing with the needs and interests of Burlington residents, such as master gardeners Michael Rooney and Susan Dorn (right), whose urban farming — in their case, unpermitted hoophouses — conflict with neighbors' aesthetic desires and local zoning ordinances.

City council created the citizen-led task force in March 2011 in order to study issues of urban ag and provide policy recommendations for raising livestock, composting, farming and community gardens. For years, the council has heard growing complaints about conflicts over greenbelt veggie patches, crowing roosters and how many pigs or sheep are appropriate in the backyard of a two-bedroom duplex. Rather than addressing each of these problems piecemeal, the council opted to take a more holistic approach to urban agriculture.

Continue reading "Growing Issues: Burlington's Urban Ag Task Force Seeks Feedback On Its Draft Report" »

July 03, 2012

Smilie School Garden Probable Casualty of Contaminated Compost

School_gardenSome home gardeners are reeling after learning they'll lose their vegetable patches to contaminated soil from Green Mountain Compost. That disappointment is particularly acute at Smilie Memorial School in Bolton, where the school used a $7300 grant from Fletcher-Allen Health Care to build their first-ever garden this spring.

The grant, aimed at improving kids' eating habits and combating obesity, enabled the school to hire a garden manager and build seven raised beds, which students filled with topsoil from GMC, as well as beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash and broccoli. Many of those plants had been started by Smilie's 80 pre-K and elementary school kids under grow lights, and were to be used in the lunch program.

"We're trying to get kids to eat more colors and fresh foods and provide the experience from seed-to-table," says school principal Mary Woodruff, who wrote for and received the grant, along with another from the Subaru Healthy Sprouts program. But once the starts were in the ground, garden manager Bronwyn McKeown noticed that something "wasn't quite right," according to Woodruff, as leaves curled and bush beans withered and died.

Once they learned about the contaminated soil, and the culprit was clear. "We were just heartbroken," says Woodruff, who says that most of the plants, including the new raspberry patch, will probably need to be pulled out and the soil replaced. "But then you just have to say, what are we going to do next? The plan is to get this [soil] out of there and get new soil in and salvage what we can."

It was just over a week ago when Green Mountain Compost, an extension of the Chittenden Solid Waste District, suspended sales after finding out that its bulk compost and soil — most of which arrives in the form of trimmings and scraps from CSWD — had likely been contaminated by a persistent herbicide, the type of potent, long-lasting weed killer sometimes used on farms.

Continue reading "Smilie School Garden Probable Casualty of Contaminated Compost" »

June 26, 2012

Say Cheese! The Cabot Labeling Saga Continues

CabotWelcome to Cheesegate: Cabot Creamery's decision to change its logo is still making waves (or should we say wheyves?) in the Green Mountain State.

In case you missed the kerfuffle last week: Cabot dropped the state, and name, of Vermont from some of its packaging. The company says it began quietly making the change about a year ago to better comply with state rules. The rules stipulate that three-quarters of a dairy product's main ingredient must come from Vermont in order for a company to use the state in its marketing.

Now, instead of imposing Cabot's name over an outline of the state of Vermont, the new logo features the silhouette of a green barn and the words, "Owned by our farm families in New England and New York since 1919."

The change ruffled more than a few feathers. As the Burlington Free Press reports today, the logo change churned up a fair share of political debate. Gov. Peter Shumlin is bemoaning the change, saying in a news conference last week, "I believe that when we have the Vermont label on Vermont Cabot, that's a good thing for Vermont farmers and a good thing for Vermont's value-added food products." Meanwhile, challengers for the attorney general's office played the Cabot card in accusing AG Bill Sorrell of pushing too hard on one of Vermont's iconic brands — to which Sorrell responded that Cabot made the label change on its own. 

Adding to the quagmire is this latest accusation, from dairy farmer Karen Shaw of Hardwick: Shaw says the new label is still inaccurate. She claims that, contrary to popular belief, Cabot's parent company isn't really a farmer-owned cooperative. Although Cabot was originally a Vermont dairy cooperative, the beloved cheesemaker hitched its wagon to the multistate Agri-Mark cooperative in 1992. (Agri-Mark is incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in Massachusetts.)

Agri-Mark collects milk from dairy farmers throughout New England and New York. While Cabot still operates processing plants in Vermont, much of the creamery's milk crosses state lines, and some products (such as Cabot butter) are made out of state. 

Continue reading "Say Cheese! The Cabot Labeling Saga Continues" »

June 21, 2012

What the Farm Bill May (or May Not) Mean for Vermont Farmers

BarnThe 2012 farm bill is continuing on its arduous way through the sausage grinder after passing the Senate in a 64-35 vote this afternoon. It's a behemoth of a bill, to which lawmakers at one point attached more than 300 amendments — some entirely unrelated to the business of food and farming.

The complex bill would trim $4 billion over 10 years from the food stamps program; consolidate several conservation programs; cap subsidy payments to farmers making (get this) more than $750,000 a year; and would do away with direct payments to farmers — currently totaling roughly $5 billion a year in subsidies — replacing that system with a crop insurance program instead. But subsidies aren't going anywhere yet: The government would subsidize farmers' insurance premiums while also guaranteeing a backstop for insurance company losses.

One amendment from Vermont's own Sen. Bernie Sanders would have allowed states to require that food containing genetically modified organisms be labeled as such — but that measure failed this afternoon in a 73-26 vote.

Continue reading "What the Farm Bill May (or May Not) Mean for Vermont Farmers" »

May 11, 2012

Burlington Couple Busted For Gardening Structures in Front Yard

DSC02504Burlington homeowners Michael Rooney and Susan Dorn built greenhouse-style hoop houses in their front yard two years ago to extend the growing season. Instead of harvesting salad greens in May or June, the couple now picks knee-high Swiss chard, kale and red mustard in early March.

"We want to control our own food as much as we can," says Rooney, who lives on South Willard Street near Champlain College. "Sustainable living. We live in Vermont. Grow your own food. All that stuff —– we believe in all of it."

But last month, the couple got a notice from the Burlington Code Enforcement Office that their gardening structures were a code violation and would have to come down to avoid penalties. The code office received an anonymous complaint anonymous complaints — three of them — about the homemade hoop houses.

Rooney says he was told that, under city zoning regulations, hoop houses qualify as "stable structures" and that the couple's raised garden beds qualify as "retaining walls" — both of which require permits from city hall. So does a two-foot-high metal fence that lines the garden to keep out hungry rabbits.

"This is ridiculous," Rooney says on a recent spring day.

Continue reading "Burlington Couple Busted For Gardening Structures in Front Yard" »

April 24, 2012

Meat Repeat: Another Vermont Farmer Looks to DIY Butchering

SugarmtnfarmWhen I reported on LaPlatte River Angus Farm last week for our cover story on the local meat industry, farmer Jim Kleptz told me about plans to fire up a family-owned slaughterhouse on recently acquired land in Milton. The reason? Kleptz and his sons want complete control, from raising a calf to slaughtering the steer to, finally, packaging and selling the meat. 

Well, add another farmer to the roster of those considering the DIY-approach. Walter Jeffries and his family (pictured) have been painstakingly building a butcher shop and abattoir from the ground up at Sugar Mountain Farm, the 70-acre farm in West Topsham where the family raises pastured pigs and other livestock. The family's been at it — slowly but surely — since 2008. Back then, a series of slaughterhouse-related headlines prompted them to build their own facility. A Rutland slaughterhouse burned to the ground. A Grand Isle plant shuttered its doors after being outed for inhumane treatment. The family's St. Johnsbury butcher was talking of retirement. For Jeffries, who had turned a homestead hobby into a family farm, the trend didn't bode well.

"We were looking at that from the point of view of, 'Wow, we've got all these pigs in the field, and if we can't find a place to slaughter them, we'll be strung up,'" Jeffries said.

It's been slow going. In 2009, the family tore down an old hay shed, poured the insulated slab foundation, and began putting up walls. Construction was piecemeal, because to a very large degree the family has funded the operation upfront. They pulled $32,000 from a savings account they'd set aside for a future greenhouse. They routed the cash flow from their pork sales toward the project. A community-supported agriculture "pre-buy" drummed up capital from customers, and friends and neighbors pitched in with personal loans. Had a bank been willing to loan money for the project, Jeffries would have taken it, but the farm made do without. In the most recent bid for funding, Sugar Mountain Farm has taken to Kickstarter to rally the troops. With the help of more than 230 contributors, the farm has already raised more than $20,000 of its $25k goal. 

Continue reading "Meat Repeat: Another Vermont Farmer Looks to DIY Butchering" »

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